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Shocker: PPM is Not 100% Accurate!

Ben Fong-Torres is one of my heroes, so it’s always a pleasure to read his stuff, even when he’s writing about something as workaday (to you and me) as Arbitron’s PPM.

A couple weeks ago he profiled a real, live, in-the-flesh PPM panelist.  And he discovered pretty much what any sentient being in radio (no jokes, please) already knew:

PPM does not perfectly collect all listening in all situations.

To quote the wry, late, and great John Gielgud, “alert the media.”

While this story is interesting to the lay reader who knows nothing of the measurement side of the radio business, no broadcaster should be surprised by a word of it.

“Pagers are like ’80s things,” said the panelist.

You bet they are!  Then again, diaries are like ’30s things, so maybe there’s more progress here than meets the eye.

“[Arbitron] said they’d had difficulty finding people in this area in my age range.”

You must be over the age of 5.

“But I wouldn’t take [the PPM device] to some occasions, like out to dinner.”

Smooth Jazz is going to Hell in a handbasket.  Check.

It’s easy to declare DefCon 1 and bemoan that “lost listening” is going unrecorded, but I say we all have to get over it.

That’s because PPM is a procedure to sample behavior and create estimates of usage.  Like all research, it is a best guess on reality, an abstraction of the truth. While you can make any research methodology better, you can never make them perfect.  They will always be just what they claim to be:  Estimates.

There will always be “lost listening” or exaggerated listening or incorrect listening or bad distribution of measurement devices or even diarykeepers who just can’t seem to find a #2 pencil when they need one. Such is the nature of the beast.

We should not freak out when a PPM panelist discloses obvious and well-worn truths.

Our larger challenge is to ask ourselves how we expect to prove the performance of all that listening as it relates to results for our advertisers.

It’s to ask ourselves how we can leverage that listening into profit opportunities which follow the flow of ad dollars out of mass media and into digital platforms.

It’s to ask ourselves how we can be not just present in listeners’ lives but a vital force that they care about passionately.  One that’s not replaceable on any platform.

These are not questions for PPM panelists, folks.

They are questions for radio industry executive boardrooms.

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